Thursday, May 26, 2005

On Lost and Alias

A strange variety of topics I cover here, isn't it? Hey, if you don't like it you can start your own blog.

Lost and Alias are two of my favorite television shows and of course last night was the season finale for both. I have to say, I WAS not disappointed. Let's start with Lost, shall we?

Without a doubt, this finale raised more questions than it answered. Or rather, it just teased at most of the questions, making loyal viewers itchy with anticipation for next season. We've wondered about Hurley's numbers since mid-season when we learned that he was the winner of one of the biggest lottery jackpots in history. They were the serial numbers on the plane of the Oceanic flight that crashed in the first place. (right? I am remembering that correctly, aren't I?) And of course in the finale, they show up on the strange hatch that Locke has been digging up. Walt told Locke not to open it, and Hurley begged Locke not to detonate the dynamite when he saw the numbers on the hatch. The numbers, and thus whatever the hatch leads to are bad news. But where does that old decayed ladder lead?

And what about Walt? Kidnapped by men on an old fishing boat. Well at least now we know a little bit about those "others" that the French woman rants and raves about - I absolutely guarantee, that was them. So why do they snatch children? And what is their connection with the "monster"? I have to say I liked what I was seeing with respects to the monster - it's insubstantial manifestion, there, but not really there; winking in and out of existence. What is it? Some trans-astral-plane life form? It is the monster more than anything else that brings the real mystery of the show home. It is the answer to Charlie's question in episode 2 - "where the hell are we?" Of course Michael had a good observation in the finale, one that any astute viewer has got to have pondered at some time. While looking back at the island as they are sailing away, he notices its size. "You would think that an island this big would have been discovered by someone before." Yeah, we've noticed that where the hell are they? I think that pretty clearly, this group of survivors is lost in more way than one. Ah!! So in fact, there is a real significance to the name of this show.

Any way, it didn't disappoint at all. I still think this is one of the best written and most finely crafted shows on television right now. I can't wait for season 2.

And there is Alias. To be honest, the finale wasn't that great....until the final 5 seconds! I hope that with the killing of Illena (not Irena, right? Irena is Sydney's mother - correct? And what is the other sister's name? I don't remember) the whole Rimbaldi story line comes to an end. It was great the first season - Rimbaldi was like DaVinci and Nostradamus rolled into one and it was fun to watch that story line unfold. But things got so convoluted in season 2 that I lost interest and it seemed like the writers didn't know where they were going. And let's be honest, the show works best an espionage/thriller show. When Sydney goes undercover to foil some terrorist plot to bring down the United States, that's when we love the show. So the finale was just so/so. But then the ending! Holy crap! That was a cliff hanger of enormous proportions. We didn't know Vaughn was keeping secrets....he couldn't be - he's too nice; he loves Sydney too much. But we were so excited that he decided to come clean. And just as he was about to tell all, so that he and Sydney could get married with no secrets between them....WHAM! Who is he? What is his secret? Is he dead? Accident, or intentional? Man, that ending is going to keep me wondering all summer long.

Well, now I've got lots to look forward to this fall.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

So Cool (Science Geek Stuff)

I'm a popular science geek, and I have no problem admitting it. If astronomy and space exploration don't get your juices flowing, don't bother reading further. But I've got to tell you, an absolutely amazing this is happening right now.

In 1977 the Voyager I probe was launched to explore Jupiter and Saturn. In 1979 it reached Jupiter and returned amazing information about the planet and its moons including the first images ever recorded of volcanic activity outside of earth (Voyager took pictures of active volcanos on Io - one of Jupiter's major moons). Late in 1980, Voyager I flew by Saturn, and after sending back data about this gaseous giant, began its trip out of the solar system - a trip it has been on for the past 25 years. The amazing thing is that Voyager I is still sending signals and scientific data back to earth!

Voyager 1 has travelled about 9 billion miles since it began its journey, and apparently has passed through the "termination shock" a boundary that marks the limit of our solar system and the start of interstellar space. Essentially at this boundary, particles from the solar wind (and their effects) diminish significantly. Recently instruments abord Voyager have been sending back data indicating a significant reduction in the solar wind - exactly what is expected at this termination shock boundary. So now Voyager has entered the heliosheath - a kind of boundary space between the solar system and interstellar space. And Voyager will continue to send signals to the Earth until about 2020. I'm sorry, if that doesn't amaze and delight you, then there is something seriously wrong with you.

An interesting pop-culture connection here is that the original Star Trek movie is about Voyager. The premise is that somewhere out there Voyager bumps into intelligent life. Now it is a true fact that Voyager carries with it a plaque and a recording designed to alert another intelligent civilization to the fact that we exist. It is also designed to make Voyager's mission clear: to explore and learn about space. In the Star Trek movie, this intelligent life (the aliens are never identified) enhance Voyager with artificial intelligence so that it can continue on and complete its mission. Of course this has unexpected results. The whole thing is clearly fictional, but knowing that the real Voyager is still out there, and is in fact heading into galactic space, kind of makes the Star Trek idea just a little more real.

Anyway, I saw an article on it, and I thought it very cool.

Compromise and Backlash

Well a group of 14 Senators were able to hammer out a compromise that allows the Senate to avoid (at least temporarily) taking a vote to end the filibuster option on judicial nominees. Seven Democratic Senators vowed to allow 3 of Bush's nominees to come to a vote on the Senate floor (i.e. be approved) and to only use the filibuster option in cases of the most extreme need. Apparently William Pryor Jr., one of the nominees that will be approved wasn't extreme enough - which makes one wonder, exactly what kind of nominee would be extreme enough. William Pryor has repeated made it clear that he believes that democracy, the Constitution and our political system require that all political issues be decided by either a majority vote, or by a vote of the representatives chosen by the majority. In other words, Mr. Pryor believes that "majority rule" is the only legitimate form of decision making in this country. If the majority votes to deny marriage rights to gays and lesbians, then so be it. If the majority votes to make abortion illegal, so be it. If the majority votes to make it legal to lynch African Americans, then so be it. According to Pryor, this principle of governance outweighs all others, and the courts have no business intervening. I guess that isn't too extreme for the Senators who went along with this compromise, because William Pryor is now going to be approved for a life-long seat on a Federal Appeals court.

In exchange, seven Republican Senators vowed not to vote for overturning the filibuster option. I don't know what that means. Does that vow mean they will never ever vote to overturn the filibuster? What if the seven Democrats join in in a filibuster on a nominee that the Republicans don't agree is "extreme" enough to justify it. Will they then go ahead and vote down the filibuster option? I mean, the situation IS going to arise. It's going to arise when Bush finally gets to nominate a Supreme Court justice. Because I think pretty much everyone in this country knows that Bush is going to nominate a far right-wing, fundamentalist Christian conservative to the court - someone whose record makes it clear that they are not just willing, but chomping at the bit to overturn Roe V. Wade, to allow prayer in schools, to roll back civil rights and civil liberties, to allow this country to become a fundamentalist Christian Theocracy. And the Democrats are going to filibuster the nomination. What then?

Don't think that's the direction this country is headed in? Take a look at the reaction to this so-called compromise by the far right:

Conservatives, Angered by Compromise, Vow Retribution at the Polls

By Mike Glover Associated Press Writer
Published: May 25, 2005

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Conservatives who had warned Republicans about compromising on President Bush's judicial nominees delivered another message the day after the deal: Those who betrayed us will pay a political price.
Furious with the outcome, conservative leaders promised to energize their rank-and-file for the next elections while warning some of the centrist Republicans who harbor presidential aspirations to forget about 2008.

"A complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of Republicans," said James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based conservative Christian group, who promised that voters will remember "both Democrats and Republicans who betrayed their trust."

The talk of retribution was particularly keen in Iowa, where the state's precinct caucuses launch the presidential nomination process and can make or break White House hopefuls.

"They won't get any help from us - none," Norman Pawlewski of the Iowa Christian Coalition said of the seven Republicans who helped negotiate the compromise. "We busted our hump to get a president who would appoint judges who would be more just. Republican senators betrayed us."

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said, "There will be repercussions."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a possible presidential candidate in 2008, was under intense pressure to ensure that each of Bush's nominees received an up-or-down vote. Conservatives made it clear that anything less was unacceptable.

While Dobson credited Frist for "courageously fighting to defend the vital principle of basic fairness," other conservatives weren't as forgiving.

"He let them do this," Pawlewski said. "He's the leader of the Senate. If he is so weak ... he can't control his own troops, then he's not much of a leader."

These people expect to get what they want. They have an agenda, and if their demands are not met, they will lash out at those who stand in their way. This is war folks - make no mistakes about it. There are powerful organizations out there, getting more powerful by the day, that want to take over this country. They want a "Christian" nation. Frankly they don't want a democracy. No more than fundamentalist Muslims, want democracy in the Middle East. These people want a theocratic state - and a theocracy is by definition NOT democratic. I'd wager to say that most Americans do not want a Christian Theocracy as their government, and yet the American voter is electing officials who are moving our country in exactly that direction. So the big question to me is, why?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

It just makes sense

I just read the most sensible thing I think I've seen on government and spending in a long time. For years the Republican party sold itself as the party of fiscal responsibility and restraint. I've voted for Republican candidates on the basis of this issue. But recently, clearly, the Republican party has clearly demonstrated that in general, this reputation simply doesn't hold true. We are looking at record deficits with a Republican president and Republican Congress. Why? Because the same party controls the executive and the legislative branches of government. Well duh! The President proposed new spending and the Congress can't vote no - that would be disloyal to their president. Congress passes a new spending bill and the President isn't going to veto the bill - he doesn't want the leadership of his own party to get angry with him. It's actually the same story regardless of which party controls both branches - record deficit spending. Kennedy-Johnson and a Democratic Congress? Deficit spending. Bush and a Republican Congress? Deficit spending Carter and a Democratic Congress? Deficit spending. And historically when has the Federal Government shown restraint in spending? When power was split between the two parties. Clinton and a Republican Congress, Reagan and a Democratic Congress, Eisenhower and a Democratic Congress. Whether its because of partisanship, or real differences in values and priorities, when power is shared, the government spends less. The President vetoes spending bills, Congress is reluctant to fund initiatives coming from the White House, deficits shrink (sometimes even replaced by surpluses).

It makes so much sense. So everyone, want to get deficit spending under control? In the 2006 House and Senate elections vote Democrat!

Episode III

I saw Revenge of the Sith last night. I was 11 years old when the first Star Wars movie came out and I still distinctly recall looking through the movie ads in the Sunday newspaper and seeing a small ad for this cool looking sci-fi movie. I have very few memories of my childhood. Most of my life before the age of 21 is blank, or at the best fuzzy. But I remember seeing that ad. It was for an unknown movie - it wasn't getting much hype, and I don't remember ever seeing a television ad for it. But as a burgeoning sci-fi fan (read "geek" here) I was real excited. I grabbed the paper and went to show my dad - he is a science fiction fan too. "Doesn't this look cool, dad?" I asked, knowing that we would be going to the movies soon. And WOW! I had never seen anything like it. Of course, no one had - Star Wars was something completely new. Certainly it was one of the defining films of my generation.

Now the rumors spread like wild fire about the movie. George Lucas was planning and epic trilogy of trilogies. There were going to be 2 sequels to this first movie that would show how the rebellion would triumph over the empire, but that was just the beginning! This movie was actually the 4th chapter of the story. The first three chapters would be pre-Luke/Leia and chronicle the rise of the empire. The final three chapters would be post-Luke/Leia and tell the story of how democracy flourished in the galaxy after the fall of the empire. Only R2D2 and C3PO would be in all 9 of the stories - they were the constant thread running through the entire epic. I even remember hearing that Darth Vader had become the way he was (physically) because he had fallen into a volcano (or something along those lines). So along come The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and I loved those movies as well. I understood that the ewoks were a shameless marketing ploy to make even more money for the Lucas empire. But that was o.k. the movies were still epic, the story gripping, the characters deep and convincing.

And then a lull. And you know what? That would have been fine. You could have stopped right there George. That trilogy was complete, told a full story, didn't need explanation. But wasn't enough for George. And so after many long years, along came The Phantom Menace. What a disappointment! The film which was poorly plotted, poorly acted and poorly written. And Jar-Jar Binks??? But hey, we had grown up with Star Wars, right? We were the Star Wars generation, and we had to see the series through. So we stuck it out. Episode 2 had to be better than the first movie, right? George Lucas would respond to the critics and get things right. And a few years later Attack of the Clones was released. And what a piece of crap that was!! The kid playing Anakin was like walking cardboard and Natalie Portman as Padme was just as bad. That scene in the meadow by the lake - didn't it make you believe in robot love? Oh wait, Anakin and Padme aren't supposed to be robots. Really? Could have fooled me. R2D2 and C3PO have more personality.

So when a friend of mine called me on Sunday saying he had an extra ticked for a Monday showing of The Revenge of the Sith, I reluctantly agreed to go. I had to see this thing through. Well I'm glad it's over. The critics are wrong. This is as big a load of steaming cow dung as the previous 2. It's awful - once again mainly because of the incredibly terrible acting. Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman are so unbelievably bad that it is hard to believe anyone is paying them to "act". And Ewan McGregor was pretty terrible too (all of a sudden he is a smug, slightly sarcastic jedi) which was really disappointing because he had been one of the few redeeming features of the first 2 films. It was kind of cool to see the story finally come around to set the stage for the "originals", but it was too little too late. All I can really say is....I'm glad it's finally all over. Please, please, please, Mr. Lucas, stick to your word and don't make that final trilogy. I just don't think I could take it.

Monday, May 23, 2005


I saw this movie over the weekend. It is a pretty remarkable little film - people should go and see it. Very intense, it is a drama of concentrated vingettes that are ultimately all tied together. The unifying theme to all the stories is racism and prejudice, and while the examples presented in the film are extreme, in-your-face, instances the movie actually avoids being judgmental - the perpetrators of the prejudice are both loathesome and sympathetic at the same time. The viewer is allowed to hate the actions and sentiments presented while at the same time understanding them and the motivations behind them. We witness a woman treating her hispanic housekeeper like garbage in one scene and then later hugging her and calling her, her best friend. And the viewer can appreciate that both scenes are authentic. A cop is shown in one scene humiliating and sexually harrassing a black woman, and in another scene risks his own life to save a black woman. And again, the viewer can understand how both scenes can be authentic - that both sides of human nature can exist in the same person. Even the most despicable characters in the movie have moments of redemption, and the most likable characters demonstrate weakness of character. It's real.

The movie raises complex questions, and in what I think is one of the bravest moves I've seen in a long time in a film, doesn't attempt to answer any of them. There are no pat endings here, no simple, "happy ending" resolutions. The clear message is, there aren't easy answers. And that, quite simply, is the truth. Now how often does Hollywood send such a stark, clear message? Go see Crash. It's well worth the time and money.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Random musings and reality TV

O.K. I admit it, I am a reality TV junkie. My favorites are Survivor, The Amazing Race and The Apprentice. And of course in the past couple of weeks, all of these shows have had their season finales. I have to give credit to Tom from Survivor. I wasn't rooting for him, but he did play the game better than anyone else. And his physical dominance certainly worked to his advantage as well. But was is interesting to me is the fact that Tom was the most heavy handed player to play the game and win since Richard Hatch in the first season. After Richard, people got wise to that kind of obvious manipulation and now, players who play with that kind of strategy tend to last for a while, but usually get voted off mid-way through the game. Of course Tom had the advantage of being on a team that never lost immunity challenges so he wasn't in any danger early on. But later, why his team didn't wise up and vote him off at the earliest opportunity is a mystery to me. It's an even greater mystery because they TALKED about doing it all the time. Every episode, someone in the tribe would say to someone else, "he's so strong, he's such a threat, we need to vote him off at the earliest opportunity" and the person listening would nod his or her head sagely and agree. But they never actually got it together to do what they agreed they needed to do. Yet again, this season made it clear that a women's alliance is an impossible thing to pull off. Why? I just don't get it.

Now on The Amazing Race I have to say I was in the "anybody but Rob and Amber" camp. I would have been happy to see the old people win, just so that Rob and Amber didn't win. One of the reasons that The Amazing Race has been one of my favorite reality shows is that it has always been relatively civilized and genteel. O.K., O.K., that's why I used the word "relatively"!!! But Rob just did everything he could to make the game one of slimy, in the gutter strategies. Blatant lies, obvious sabotague, and snide indifference ("no way are we stopping to see if the guys who got into a serious jeep accident are o.k.") to other teams when they were in trouble, made Rob the easy person to hate and enjoy doing it. This season was the vindication for nice people every where. Uchenna was about as nice a person as there ever was. Joyce - eh...not so nice, but Uchenna - some day he will be nominated for sainthood and I didn't even get the impression that he is Catholic (YES, I know that it was VERY clear he is NOT Catholic....please try not to take me so literally). Nice to the old couple, nice to cab drivers, oh so nice to his wife (not always the nicest person), nice to the host, nice to the camera, nice to all the locals. So, so nice. And so the nice people won. I have to admit I was rooting for the gay boys (oh yeah, I know - huge surprise), and let's be honest they were really nice too. O.K. the unfortunate comment made when in a not so nice neighborhood of Johannesburg kind of showed the edge to that niceness, but they were under stress, they were lost, it WASN'T such a nice area, and who among us haven't slipped with a comment of that kind from time to time. The boys WERE nice - I stand by my impression here. Nice and optimistic, and cheery, and energetic and fun. I was hoping they would win. And I'm still a little pissed off by the fact that on the leg of the race they did win, there was no prize. What is up with that?!?!? I think Rob and Amber won a prize on 3 legs of the race. Ugh...don't get me started.

Finally The Apprentice. Kendra was hired - as I'm guessing everyone who watches the show and has an IQ higher than 3 had already figured was going to happen. But still, the final weeks where sort of amazing to watch. Tana was amazing throughout the show until about the last 3 tasks when she just completely flaked out. I mean what was with her obsession with the Bedazzler?!?!? And yeah, she had a bunch of losers to work with on the final task, but you don't have to be real bright to figure out that berating and insulting and denegrating your team in front of the people who are evaluating your performance (specifically Carolyn), or in front of your client, or in front of a camera that may play back everything you say to a national television audience (including those very team members) is probably a very bad idea. And Kendra, who was pretty much unknown until the final few tasks, just came out of nowhere to show flashes of brilliance. She did do a great job on that final task. Not that it ultimately matters (because Tana just wigged out in the end - what was with her ranting on the live season finale???), but don't you agree that Tana had the much more difficult task in the end?

Still I have to say that Trump had already fired the best candidates in the group, so he was left with a choice between two less talented finalists that in previous seasons. And the truth of the matter is, I think he knew it. I mean look at the choices of jobs he offered the winner. In the past it was jobs like overseeing the construction of a 90-story building, or the construction of a luxury golf course/country club, or managing the development of a massive multi-building residential comples in Manhattan. This time it was produce the Miss Universe contest or renovate a Palm Beach mansion?!?!? Yeah, I think Trump knew exactly what he was getting.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Spoiled Child/Indulgent Parents

Today the Senate began debating George Bush's nomination of Priscilla Owens to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Or rather his renomination as her nomination was rejected by the previous Senate. Or rather, it wasn't so much rejected as blocked by a filibuster by the Democratic minority in the Senate. Of course this is pretty well common knowledge at this point as the news media has been repeating this story for days now. Not to report on the specifics of this nomination or the debate regarding the nomination, but more to report on the Senate "showdown" over the use of the filibuster to block judicial nominations. Historically, minority parties have used the filibuster to block nominations to which they have strong objections. Essentially, a filibuster forces a "supermajority" vote (60 of 100 votes) to allow a nomination or piece of legislation to be voted on. Now personally, I am of the opinion that when it comes to nominations for positions like federal judgeships, approval should always require a supermajority. These are lifetime appointments after all, often serving long after the administration that nominates them is gone. They should have to meet a higher standard and achieve broader approval. But that's just my opinion, and not really the point I'm trying to make here.

After hearing all the media reports about how this nomination was going to bring the Senate to a crisis with the time honored tradition of filibuster on the line, I began to wonder about just who this Priscilla Owens was. Just what, exactly, was the Senate debating? So I did a little research. I encourage everyone out there to do the same. This whole "showdown" is a farce. It's not about Priscilla Owens, it's not about nominees to the federal bench, it's not about activist judges, or extreme conservatism.

Here's the deal: Priscilla Owens is a pretty bad judge. Critics on both sides of the political spectrum agree on this. Her rulings and opinions often ignore the law and are clearly based on her personal beliefs and opinions. She doesn't even attempt to convey an impression of impartiality or objectivism. She accepted considerable campaign contributions from both Haliburton and Enron, and then refused to recuse herself in cases involving both corporations. I don't mention this to suggest ethical impropriety (I'm certain that within her personal value system, there was nothing remotely unethical about those decisions), but simply to illustrate that she isn't a very good judge. She simply doesn't seem to understand (or care about) that in our judicial system we expect our judges to convey the impression of (if not actually embody) certain valued qualities that suggest honor and fairness. But you can read the criticism from both sides - liberals and conservatives, democrats and republicans, yourself. Priscilla Owens is a crappy judge. She shouldn't have a lifetime appointment to a U.S. Court of Appeals.

The fact that Owens is an ultra-conservative, right-wing idealogue is irrelevant - the woman isn't qualified to serve. So why isn't this the central point of the debate? Why does the media focus on the partisan politics, rather than the qualifications of the woman? It's not just because the partisan wrangling makes for a better story, it's that the Republican party wants this to be the focus of the debate. Because there is much more at stake here. It seems to me that the issue is this: the Republican party occupies the White House and holds significant majorities in both houses of Congress, and so Republicans believe that they should control things. In particular, the President clearly believes that he should automatically get everything he wants. In speaking about his judicial nominees he sounds like a spoiled child, "approve them now! you must approve them now!" And the leadership of the party are playing the role of his indulgent parents. "Up and down vote" Bush has cried repreatedly, and the party faithful have rallied around, repeating this words ad-infinitum. With a 55 member majority, "up and down" means "rubber stamp."

Bush expects approval on everything: nominations, budget, social security reform, etc. Forget filibusters, Bush wants an end to debate, to dissent, to the voicing of other opinions. Bush wants, in fact is demanding the very thing feared by our founding fathers - tyranny by the majority. The scary thing is, every day, this country gets a little bit closer to giving him what he wants.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Hate and Self Loathing in Spokane

Jim West, the mayor of Spokane, Washington has admitted he is gay. He did so reluctantly, saying that he was the target of "sex nazis" who want to regulate personal sexual behavior, and of malicious opponents who wanted to "out" him just to smear his reputation. Now what is really funny about that is, Jim West had the reputation of being a "sex nazi" out to not just regulate the personal sexual behaviors of gays and lesbians, but to make them targets of hate, prejudice and discrimination. Some highlights from his career as a Washington state legislator and mayor of Spokane (
  • In January 1986, Jim West and 14 other Washington State Republicans introduced a bill that would have barred gay men and lesbians from working in schools, day-care centers and some state agencies. The bill called for screening prospective employees for sexual orientation and firing state workers whose sexual identities became known. The bill failed.
  • Later that year, West voted to bar the state from distributing pamphlets telling people how to protect themselves from AIDS during sex.
  • West opposed gay rights bills introduced in 1985 and 1987.
  • In 1990, as part of a bill on AIDS education, West proposed that teen sex be criminalized. The bill, written by the abstinence group Teen Aid, would have made sexual contact a misdemeanor for unmarried teenagers under 18. Sexual contact was defined as "any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person" for sexual gratification.
  • West voted in 1998 for the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The Governor vetoed the bill, but the Legislature overrode his veto.
  • As Senate majority leader, West and other Republicans in 2003 bottled up the gay-rights bill in committee and it died.
  • As Spokane's incoming mayor in November 2003, West said he opposed to extending City Hall benefits to domestic partners. In April 2005, the City Council approved domestic partner benefits anyway and by a majority large enough to withstand a mayoral veto.

Well, you've really got to feel sorry for a guy who has such a sterling record of tolerance and acceptance FOR HIS OWN PEOPLE when he then gets maliciously outed by "sex nazis."

But it's a viscious, self-continuing cycle that is at work in this country. We live in a society that teaches its children to hate gays and lesbians. So what happens to a gay child? If he is indoctrinated properly, as clearly Jim West was, he learns to hate himself, and this self hatred may then be manifested as a venemous hatred for all others like himself. It also is evidenced by his self destructive behaviors. Turns out West was cruising the internet for "young men" and apparently offering them goverment jobs in exchange for sex. But although he admitted to cruising the net, he said he couldn't explain why he was doing it.

I can explain it, you self-loathing hypocrit.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Church and State, Part 2

So this preacher in North Carolina kicks out 9 people from his flock because they voted for John Kerry in the November election. Then he turns around and says it was all a big misunderstanding, and that he was just trying to express his passionately held beliefs against abortion; to impress upon his congregation how vitally important it was that they defend the lives of the unborn.

What he apprently failed to realize was that his congregation, including the 9 church members he so strongly condemned shared his passionate belief. What he didn't take into account, what he apparently couldn't comprehend was the idea that someone who was pro-life could possibly still vote for John Kerry. He isn't alone in this, a significant portion of voters in this country vote based on a single issue. And of course, I'll have more to say about that another time.

But in fact, the issue goes deeper here. Because the implied message behind the pastor's words and actions is that he believes it is not only acceptable, but imperative that the government of this country be based on his personal religious beliefs. In kicking 9 worshipers from his congregation he made it very clear that he believes that anyone who disagrees with this idea should be excluded from....from what? His church, his town, his state, his country, his world?

This is a really dangerous idea, but unfortunately it is an idea universal to religious fundamentalism. MY beliefs are correct and must be held universally. You disagree? Well then, DIE, heretic! There is no room for other beliefs and ideas - because GOD does now allow it. Fundamentalism can be used to excuse any behavior. Many of the most appalling atrocities in human history have been justified based on fundamentalism (racial supremacy is absolutely a fundamentalist idea). Fundamentalists want their government to be based on their beliefs and principles. And it was exactly this dangerous extremism that the founding fathers were attempting to avoid in establishing a separation between church and state.

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Church and State, Part 1

Did you hear about the pastor of the Baptist Church in North Carolina who told 9 of his congregants that they had to leave the church for voting for John Kerry? Apparently, during the recent campaign season, this pastor like so many others in this country (preachers, pastors, priests, reverends, etc.) preached politics from his pulpit telling his flock that if they supported John Kerry they were sinners who were going to hell. He told them that if they voted for John Kerry they would be kicked out of the church, and he kept that promise. About a week ago, he met with the church elders (or whatever they're called in a Baptist Church) and he basically convinced them to "vote out" 9 of their fellow worshipers. Now isn't that a fine imitation and demonstration of Christ's love?

Honestly, I don't know why this story made national news (I saw it on ABC's nightly news cast), but it did. And I guess the backlash from the story was pretty intense, because during his sermon on Sunday, the preacher said that the whole thing was a great misunderstanding and invited the 9 cast-outs to return to the church. I'm not sure exactly how someone misunderstands a statement like "You voted for John Kerry you evil sinner and you will burn in hell for eternity for it, so leave this church immediately, you are no longer welcome here." It seems pretty cut and dry to me. Of course I'm just imagining the words used to usher those 9 people out, but I'm guessing that I got it pretty close. The pastor blamed the whole misunderstanding on his passionate beliefs regarding abortion - he was simply sincerely and vigorously trying to defend the innocent lives of the unborn, and people misunderstood. Oh yeah, I'll have a whole lot more to say about this. But keeping to the point....

Now the events leading up to the next chapter of this story are fuzzy, but apparently the apology wasn't enough, and on Tuesday (last night) the preacher annouced to his congregation that he was resigning from the church. This move must have been unexpected as it took most everyone by surprise, so I have to believe that something bigger was going on (interestingly, on their web site, CNN linked the story, literally - though an HTLM link, to the IRS - no details provided), but he attributed his resignation to the flap caused by the "misunderstanding."

Look, I'm all for passionately held beliefs. I am extremely passionate about my own beliefs. I'll argue long, hard and loudly for my beliefs. But I don't bash people over the head with them. I respect the right of a person to hold to beliefs (as wrong as they are) different from my own. I even recognize that people can have thoughtful, logical, well reasoned (albeit misguided) bases for holding to their beliefs. I believe that people can live in proximity to each other and believe different things. Apparently I am wrong in this belief. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that apparently this belief is extremely unamerican. I don't mean American as in that set of philosophical ideals set down by the founding fathers of this country in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, I mean american as in the current way of life of the masses of this country. It seems to be perfectly acceptable, even expected, that people live by the creed, "if you don't believe the way I do, and if those beliefs don't motivate you to behave the way I do then you can't..." Fill in the blank: worship in my church, live in my town, go to my school, be protected by the laws of my state, do business with me, expect to be treated fairly or equitable in matters of employment, housing, medical care, etc.

to be continued...

Monday, May 09, 2005

Louis Leithold, RIP

This wont mean much to most people (but then again, no one is really reading any of this anyway, so...what ever), but about a week ago, Louis Leithold passed away. He was 80 years old and apparently died of natural causes. Leithold was a math teacher. Really, he was a great math teacher and the author of several text books - most notably, The Calculus, regarded as the standard of calculus textbooks. My first calculus book was his book. Leithold first wrote the book in 1968 and it is still in print today, now in its 7th printing. It is still used to teach students today. I'm holding in my lap another of Leithold's books, Before Calculus, I use this book in my own classroom as a supplement to my district's adopted textbook for the course we call Elementary Functions (the rest of this country calls it Pre-calculus). It has a lot of good examples and problems and I can use material from the book to fill in the holes that often exist in the text we now use.

I never met the man, I really didn't know much about him to be honest. I only knew of him from his books. But I read an obituary of him today on and it made me sad. Louis was clearly a great teacher. At the age of 72, rather than retire and enjoy his golden years in leisure activity, Louis agreed to start a calculus program at Malibu High School. He was dedicated to his profession and influenced thousands of students and teachers during his lifetime.

There aren't a lot of good mathematics teachers out there. That statement may not seem to have a whole lot of significance, but it is a symptom of a really serious problem facing this country. Think about the implications of the statement. "There aren't a lot of good mathematics teachers hot there." I myself teach in a school with a mathematics department of 13 teachers. Two or three of them are good (and yes, I count myself in that number), five or six of them are mediocre, and the remaining five or six - they are really, really terrible. We're in trouble here folks. We don't live a world where it's o.k. to say "ha ha ha ha, I was really terrible at math when I was in school" anymore. And to be honest, it's nearly always the case that those who say that weren't really terrible at math, they just had really lousy teachers. I don't really think it was ever o.k. to say such a thing - the life skills we get from mathematics (number sense, problem solving, analytical thinking, logical reasoning, the ability to see and understand patterns, to generalize from patterns) are extremely valuable and sometimes critical skills in life. We can't afford to be spitting out mathematically illiterate students from our schools anymore.

We lost a good man when Louis Leithold died. I've been kind of sad all day long today.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Evolution on Trial?

Hey, this is a clever idea - huh? Let's put evolution on trial. We will have prosecuting attorneys and defense attorneys and witnesses for both sides. We will have a judge and jury and this will be a very reasonable way of showing whether or not there is merit to teaching evolution in our schools and whether or not to teach other "theories" on the origin of life. Yeah, this is exactly what is happening in Kansas, right now - sponsored by the august and venerable Kansas Board of Public Education. Of course the Kansas Board of Public Education is an elected body and there are essentially no requirements for running for a board seat. No need to have a background in education, or to have any experience. The Board can hold a hearing on evolution, and make decisions regarding whether or not evolution should be taught in schools even though not a single board member is an expert on the subject or an expert in science or really have any qualifications to take on this important and weighty responsibility. Naturally, most of the reasonable scientific community sees this as the farce that it is, and have chosen to boycott the whole thing meaning the "defense" attorney has no witnesses to call, though he promises to vigorously cross examine the witnesses called by the prosecution.

If this didn't terrify me so much, I'm sure I would be rolling on the floor laughing. But what the hell is going on here? The State of Georgia wants to ban the word "evolution" from the science curriculum and text books. Barring that, they tried putting stickers inside the covers of the books "warning" that evolution was just a "theory," not a fact. That is equivalent to saying that Einstein's "Theory" of Relativity is just a "theory"....I mean that must be true right, because it has the word "theory" as part of its description!

Oh this is only happening in a few isolated places - right? Actually, the journal Nature reported in 2000, that 1/3 of the students in this country attend schools where evolution is either not taught at all, or is presented as a questionable hypothesis on the origin of life. That was 5 years ago, and we haven't been making progress, we've clearly been moving backwards. How long before Congress decides to weigh in on this issue? How long before Bush adds this topic to his education agenda? And because judges across the country have been pretty willing to defend the teaching of evolution in public schools, how long before the Republicans are calling for a constitutional amendment banning the teaching of evolution in schools?

Absurd you say...may be right now; but isn't that the direction this country is heading in? As more and more of our elected officials are fundamentalist Christians, what can we expect. The American public is making its will known - separation of church and state? Not in this country - "we" don't want it anymore. More on this later.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


I was reading an article on today about the Bush Administration's prosecutions of porn businesses and people in the porn industry on obscenity charges. Bush's Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, was quoted as saying, "enforcement is absolutely necessary if we are going to protect citizens from unwanted exposure to obscene materials." And as happens so frequently lately, my jaw just dropped in utter amazement. Am I the only person who can't believe the stupidity in this statement and who is terrified of the fact that this kind of thinking is running rampant in this country - at all levels of government, business and public life?

I've just gotten to the point where sometimes (lately - on a daily basis) I need to rant - and a blog seemed like a good place to do it. There are enough of these out there now that I don't entertain any delusions that anyone is actually going to be reading this; all I want is the outlet - the space to say my piece. Somehow getting it down in writing helps a little bit.

I've got to tell you, I'm all for protecting the citizens of this country from unwanted exposure to pornography. I'll stand right there with Mr. Gonzales and say, "NO!! You cannot air hard-core pornography on prime time network television - it just cannot be allowed." I don't think any reasonable person would disagree. (Though I would be happy to discuss the issue with a rational person who has a reasonable argument why such a thing should be allowed - because reasonable people are always willing to discuss their beliefs and hear opposing viewpoints.) But of course these prosecutions aren't about that at all. The people and businesses being prosecuted by the Bush administration aren't out there forcing their product upon unwilling or unwitting citizens resulting in wholesale "unwanted exposure." They are selling their product to very willing citizens who want to be exposed to it. Who can't see this? Who can't see that what Mr. Gonzales (and by direct association, the Bush Administration) is implying is nonsense, and a transparent attempt to coverup an entirely different agenda?

It's this kind of stuff that makes me crazy, and it's this kind of stuff that I will be writing about here. Thanks for providing the forum.

Free Website Counter
Web Counters